Lent is a time where the focus is on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. But in another way, it is about recognizing our faith life and the completion of the sacraments of initiation. Bringing baptism to mind is a key focus for all three readings for Mass today.
The first thing to note when reading the story of Noah and the flood is to pay attention to the notion of water. Whenever we read about water our first thought should turn to baptism, whether we encounter the word in the Old Testament or the New Testament. Water is such a powerful symbol of our faith. It is both life-giving and death-dealing. We are better with it and worry about how to control it. It is become a more precious commodity every day. As such, water provides a very powerful symbol to teach us about God’s new life.
And the story of Noah helps us to better understand the paradoxical nature of water. On the one hand, it would be obvious that Noah, his family and the animals would have needed water to live. And yet it is water, in the form of a flood after 40 days and 40 nights wields death. The means of shelter used by the people in Noah’s day could not tame the waters, but the ark that Noah built according to God’s specifications could. And the story ends with a covenant. There are so many things we can learn about baptism from this story.
Like the flood, baptism does involve death. First and foremost, it is the death of Jesus which brings about our salvation. And when we are baptized, there is a type of death involved, namely the way we die to sin when we are baptized. And just as Jesus heard the voice of the Father at his baptism in the Jordan, because of his baptism we too hear the voice of Jesus in our baptism. God the Father is pleased with God the Son in our baptism because it effects our membership in the Church and our salvation.
When we are baptized, we are reminded that we are brought into the covenant God has with each one of us. It is a covenant because God gives his all for us. Jesus, who poured out his life on the cross wants us to be saved because his love for us is total and entire. And so the covenant we receive in our baptism is the great promise that creation need not be destroyed as in Noah’s day, because now, through Jesus, by the grace of God made manifest in our baptism, we can be saved.
We also learn from the second reading about the way in which Noah’s story in the ark is a prefiguring of baptism. It reminds us that when we read the Old Testament there are many levels to what we read. There is, of course, the surface story, powerful because Noah was a righteous man in the midst of sinful society. But it is also the case that Noah prefigures the Christ, as he is the righteous man who through the wood of the ark saves his family and the animals in a way that should help us to recall that Jesus too saves us through the wood of the Cross.
Every first Sunday of Lent we hear about Jesus and his temptation in the desert. This year we hear the shortest version from the gospel of Mark. Mark simply indicates that Jesus was tempted in the desert, and angels ministered to him. I like this version the best, precisely because it does not tell us how Jesus was tempted. I also like it because it reminds us that in spite of his temptations, Jesus is surrounded by angels. Guess what? The same is true for you and me. We are surrounded by the angels of God, most especially our Guardian Angel who is among us during our temptations as well. And as Jesus was 40 days in the desert, we are 40 days in our imitation of Jesus during the season of Lent.
The short gospel also makes a very compelling point. Our baptism brings us into the very heart of the Kingdom of God. That is what Jesus preached. The Kingdom of God which is a kingdom so amazing it is sometimes beyond what we think could be real. Will we ever have a world of justice? Can the disharmony caused by sin return to the harmony God intended? This is the time to find out. This is the time of fulfillment, because this is the time Jesus gives us to have a deeper relationship with him and with the Church. And because this is so awesome, so wonderful, so fulfilling, so magnificent, the time is now. The fulfillment is offered. So get on with Lent. Accept Jesus. And find the Kingdom of God in the heart of the Church and in our world.